Much like cycling with back pain, swimming is a good choice of activity as it involves no heavy impact to the body when it is being performed. Swimming with back pain does not overly stress the muscles of the back and is unlikely to worsen an existing injury. Hydrotherapy, for example, works well because it partially eliminates the strain on the body caused by gravity but allows movements against a small amount of resistance in the water itself.
Swimming can be beneficial in most types of back injury (but consult your doctor first before starting any new exercise with a back injury).
What stroke is best? This depends on your injury and experience, some options are:
- Breast Stroke: The stroke that most people are familiar with and one which is particularly good if you suffer from back pain. It does not exert any twisting forces to the body, unlike front crawl, and does not overly stress the muscles that flex or extend the hips. It is a good starting stroke to try when you are just beginning swimming with back pain but may not be appropriate if you suffer neck pain.
- Front crawl: An excellent stroke for developing aerobic fitness and total body strength and flexibility. It is probably not the best stroke to start with, but once your back has adapted to swimming breast stroke then you can carefully introduce front crawl.
- Flotation kicks: If you suffer from upper or mid-back pain then a good way to ensure you still get good exercise is to swim with a flotation device either held in your hands or under your chest and simply kick with the legs. This is an excellent work-out without the stress on your upper back muscles.
- Back stroke: If front crawl in uncomfortable for you it is work trying back stroke. It can put quite a lot of strain on the upper back and shoulders but less strain on the legs and lower back.
Once you’ve consulted you doctor and are planning to go for your first swim – consider bringing a friend for support and help in the water if needed, go at your own pace, and don’t be afraid to slow down and stop an activity if it seems to be making the pain worse for you